BIA Urban Regeneration Forum / Bilbao 2018

The III BIA Urban Regeneration Forum is focusing on the relationship between the productive economy and the urban fabric. What role can the new productive models play in urban revitalisation? What examples of best practices can be found in our surroundings? What actions can guarantee the greatest success of the footprint of the city on the territory? Which hitherto unknown stakeholders would drive a revolution towards a more balanced territory between production and consumption?

The city, as a natural and constant scenario of human activity, has experienced the success changes to the productive fabric first hand. This ongoing variation of the economic models directly affects the territory. Thus, the footprint of heavy industry was relegated to oblivion and decay and has been replaced by business parks, more adapted to the new market needs, but with high degrees of territory consumption, in an expansion of our metropolitan areas. The integration level of the productive fabric in the current city is low and most post-industrial developments have become a succession of houses and tertiary amenities that rarely manage to structure complex neighbourhoods capable of becoming hubs of activity. This exclusion of the productive economy from the urban regeneration plans has led to the city’s production centres being moved to the outskirts, with the ensuing problems to do with transport, pollution and social relations. Therefore, the much sought-after multi-purpose city is rarely so and a mismatch can be seen between the residential and work areas that particularly impacts the most vulnerable workers.

However, what can be done to ensure that a new economic conversion can be the opportunity to adopt an urban identity, capable of restructuring the urban fabric by increasing the complexity of the city and benefitting its inhabitants? It is not about recovering the industrial heart of our old cities, but rather shedding light on and incorporating productive activities so that they become an active part of our urban fabrics. Jobs linked to manufacturing, maintenance, repair or recycling must participate in the urban life, as the city is not complete without them. What alternatives are there to create this productive city? Which activities can be encouraged to drive this change?

Instead of opting for programmes based on limitless resources, the challenge consists of reinventing the immediate, of committing to alternative and circular economies to show that they focus on the balance between means and ends, city and landscape, and territory and inhabitants. This has to be an impetus to improve local economies, incorporate the next generation technology and transform the existing ones towards the new horizons set by the 4.0 revolution. The aim is to generate a productive fabric that is interweaved with and rooted in its territory, which can grow and be reinvented in the framework of an adaptive and resilient city, instead of in an expansive city.

A broader perspective of the problem shows the regeneration opportunity of spaces of different scales. From the small community with its more public and private aspects, where the limit is blurred at times, to a broad fabric that can cover a whole sector or district. In any event, the panorama generated using the new productivity models is reflected in the footprint of the cities, forced to adopt other strategies and adapt existing structures, but which are hardly viable without a far-reaching transformation. This necessary revolution affects, among other aspects, the way of approaching work at an individual level. The traditional employment model outside the home has ended up being altered by fostering a new role for housing as a unit and flexible container of work and personal life. How does this new quality attributed to housing influence its relationship with its immediate surroundings? What type of synergies can be created using those new typologies?

If we now look closer to home, we can see how the link between production and housing has breached our valleys and coasts down through history. Thus, the forges, mills and farmsteads are an interesting precedent of how hybridisation can be converted into an efficient alternative that enhances the care of the natural environment and facilitates living outside the large cities. What can be learnt from the traditional rural housing models? How can the new productive models drive the recovery of rural areas and their heritage?

Changing times require new paths to be explored in order to overcome the limits and to understand the need for cohesive strategies for territories to maximise their resources and potential, thus generating complex landscapes where habitat and productivity are not antagonistic